The Hammer

October 25, 2011

"The Hammer" dies at 65

Kjell Johnansson of Sweden, 1973 World Men's Singles Finalist (losing on two edge balls at 19-all in the fifth), who teamed with Stellan Bengtsson to battle with the Chinese for years (winning Men's Teams in 1973 and Men's Doubles three times, once with Bengtsson, twice with Hans Alser), and known for his "hammer" forehand, died yesterday at age 65. Here's an NBC Sports obit. He was a hero of mine long ago; I spent huge amounts of time copying his forehand. Along with Yugoslavia's Dragutin Surbek, he proved that you could be tall and still move extremely fast. Here are three clips of him playing in the final of Men's Singles at the 1973 Worlds.

Have a good forehand? Have a tomahawk serve?

If you have a good forehand, do you have a good forehand tomahawk serve that goes short to the opponent's forehand? (This is for two righties or two lefties.) This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a short ball on the forehand side and aim to the right - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side - you know, your strong side? If you don't overuse it, you'll get a lot of easy balls to attack. Just sayin'.

Why coach table tennis?

Here's an English Table Tennis Association coaching recruitment video. Successful table tennis countries understand the importance of such recruitment. (3:31)

Regional table tennis differences?

I'm always hearing about how this region or that is stronger than other regions, that players from one region beat players from another region with the same rating. However, when I look at the facts, almost always it comes down to local players beating players who had to travel to the tournament. (Another example is when an unorthodox player travels and then beats lots of "stronger" players who are not used to his weird style, but that works only for certain specific players, not for a group of players from one region.)

Below is a posting I did on about.com on the subject, which I thought I'd repost here. Someone had posted at about how players from the east had done poorly playing in the Los Angeles Open, and how this shows that table tennis is stronger on the west coast. Here's my response:

It's not exactly a neutral test when one group has to 1) travel 3000 miles (jet lag) 2) to an unfamiliar area and 3) play almost exclusively unfamiliar players. (Those from the region where the tournament is held have played each other more often, and you get more into a rhythm in tournaments when you play players you are familiar with, which then puts you in a better position to win against unfamiliar players.)

To have a fair comparison, you'd have to see how west coasters do after flying to eastern tournaments, or how they all do in a more neutral area. Also, using anecdotal evidence rarely shows anything. I could just as easily point out that Tong Tong Gong (from Maryland, I coached him) was seeded 9th at the Cadet Trials last year, but made the team (top four) by upsetting three consecutive west coast players. But that's anecdotal. You have to look at a relatively large sampling or you get lots of volatility.

For example, a cursory look at Mark Croitoroo's (2334) results at the LA Open show he lost 20 rating points. A closer look shows that he lost it because he lost 25 points in a deuce in the fifth loss to a 2206 west coaster, while gaining 10 by beating a 2364 west coaster at 10,6,7. An even closer look (at the entry form) shows that he lost to the 2206 in the U2500 even, which started at 1PM on Sat, while defeating the 2364 easily in the Open, which started five hours later, giving him more time to adjust. (His only other match where he lost rating points was a 5-point loss to a 2404 player from Texas.)

When I coach players each year after traveling a distance to the Nationals and Open and other tournaments, one thing that stands out year after year is that they start out relatively poorly but play better and better as the tournament goes on. Sometimes we travel early to make up for this, as in the case of Tong Tong last year, who was there and practicing three days before the Cadet Trials, and who likely would have had very different results otherwise.

Looping long pushes to the backhand

Here's a video from Coach Tao Li from Table Tennis University that shows how to step around and forehand loop those long pushes to your backhand (3:01).

Physical training with Christophe Legout

I think this is physical training for table tennis (2:57) by former French champion Christophe Legout, but I'm not sure - it's all in French. (And no, there is no "r" at the end of Christophe.)

A Waldner point

Here's Jan-Ove Waldner playing the type of incredible point that only he could do.

Table Tennista

Table Tennista is a good place for international table tennis coverage. It's even divided by sections; here's the Americas section.

Future table tennis movies

Here are 40 table tennis movies I'd like to see, in no particular order. Yes, I was bored. Feel free to comment with your own titles. (Here's the IMDB Top 250, if that helps.)

  1. Indiana Jones and the Power of Ping-Pong
  2. Harry Potter and the Ping-Pong Ball
  3. The Pongfather (Parts I, II, III)
  4. Pong Story (Parts 1-3)
  5. Twelve Angry Ping-Pong Players
  6. Pong Fiction
  7. One Flew Over the Ping-Pong Table
  8. Lord of the Table
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ball
  10. Pong Wars
  11. Pong Club
  12. Pong Hard
  13. Pongman
  14. The Ping-Pong Redemption
  15. Seven Pongurai
  16. Goodpongers
  17. Casaponga
  18. The Silence of the Sponge
  19. Dr. Ping-Pong or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sponge
  20. Ping-Pong Now
  21. Ponginator
  22. Saving Private Pong
  23. PONG-E
  24. Lawrence of Ping-Pong
  25. To Kill a Looper
  26. Pong is Beautiful
  27. Back to the Table
  28. Raging Pong
  29. The Net on the Ping-Pong Table
  30. Pongheart
  31. The Wizard of Pong
  32. The Sixth Ball Attack
  33. The Ponger King
  34. Pongface
  35. Jan-Ove Waldner and the Chinese Kid
  36. Gone with the Ball
  37. Ping-Pong Day
  38. The Man who Looped the Ping-Pong Ball
  39. Once Upon a Time on the Table
  40. Mr. Pong Goes to USATT

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